New Hampshire Keene councilors clear the way for voters to decide on keno


Keene councilors clear the way for voters to decide on keno

Keene voters will get another chance to decide whether to allow keno in the city.

The City Council voted 9-3 Thursday to place a question on the ballot during local elections in November asking residents if keno should be allowed in city bars.

Voting yes were Councilors Bettina A. Chadbourne, Randy L. Filiault, Mitchell H. Greenwald, George S. Hansel, Stephen L. Hooper, Gary P. Lamoureux, Janis O. Manwaring, Thomas F. Powers and David C. Richards.

Councilor Carl B. Jacobs was absent.

Councilors Terry M. Clark, Philip M. Jones and Robert S. Sutherland dissented.

Clark said he’s “firmly against” bringing the bingo-like electronic game to Keene. He pointed to the measure’s failure in 2017, when Elm City voters shot down keno by a 2-1 margin, as evidence that residents feel the same way.

“So I think placing it back on the ballot again is a nuisance and I would recommend not placing it on the ballot,” Clark said.

N.H. Lottery Director Charles McIntyre asked councilors to put the question to voters again and appeared before a committee July 13 to advocate for it.

State lawmakers legalized keno in the summer of 2017 but left it up to cities and towns to approve it within their borders. Eighty-four communities have done so, including the area towns of Charlestown, Fitzwilliam, Hinsdale, Jaffrey, Swanzey, Troy and Winchester.

A business with a liquor license pays a $500 annual fee to host keno and keeps 8 percent of the proceeds from their games. Another 1 percent of the revenue goes to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services “to support research, prevention, intervention, and treatment services for problem gamblers,” according to state statute.

Most of what’s left is deposited into an education trust fund and used to raise funding for full-day kindergarten programs, which started this past fiscal year, by $1,100 per student. If revenues are sufficient, that will gradually increase to $1,800 in subsequent years.

Every community receives the increase in education funding, regardless of whether it approved keno.

Supporters of the law tout that it’s an alternative way to bring more funds into education while potentially easing the burden on local taxpayers.

But Sutherland argued that using gambling to raise tax revenue exploits people who are “down on their luck” and get caught in a loop of trying to win back their money.

“Gambling is an addiction, and I don’t think we should support it,” he said.

Other councilors asserted that their opinion on the matter isn’t relevant — the question is whether to allow residents to decide.

Filiault said keno isn’t something he would likely partake in, but noted that the state rarely gives municipalities the authority to determine things for themselves. If state lawmakers are letting the residents vote, he said, councilors shouldn’t impede that.

Hansel agreed.
“I don’t know where exactly to fall on this keno thing myself, but I think that putting it to voters, however it’s voted on … that’s gonna communicate the message much stronger than the 15 of us blocking it here,” Hansel said.

Residents can attend a public hearing slated for Oct. 17 to learn more about the ballot measure.